KPFA's manager attends a board meeting

Between the Minutes on March 14, 2009

by Daniel Borgström

KPFA's General Manager, Lemlem Rijio, paid a rare visit and gave a manager's report at the public Local Station Board (LSB) meeting of March 14th. Actually, it's part of the manager's job to attend every LSB meeting.

Some of the board members seem to have no problem with Lemlem Rijio's noncompliance in this and other matters. The Sherry Gendelman faction, which call themselves the "Concerned Listeners" (CL'ers) (later "Save KPFA"), give uncritical support to Lemlem and the rest of the KPFA management.

But not all of the board is inclined to sign blank checks. There is an opposition, members who see themselves as continuing the legacy of 1999, and they began raising issues and asking penetrating questions. These were, in order of speakers, Gerald Sanders, Shahram Aghamir, Chandra Hauptman, Tracy Rosenberg, Joe Wanzala, Aki Tanaka, Anthony Fest, Henry Norr, and Sureya Sayadi.

"You can't spend money you don't have," cautioned Listener Rep Gerald Sanders. Gerald was referring to the financial mess that KPFA/Pacific is now in. Warren Mar, the CL'er who chaired this meeting, cut in and spoke for Lemlem: "She already knows that!" he said. "Knowing it isn't enough," said Gerald, "You need to act on it."

Staff Rep Shahram Aghamir asked if the station is still employing consultants. "Yes, we still have consultants," Lemlem replied. "How much is being spent on the consultants?" Shahram asked, and, not getting a satisfactory answer, he repeated his question. Finally, Lemlem said: "I will send you a confidential email." She did not explain why the amount spent on consultants had to be confidential.

Listener Rep Chandra Hauptman requested that management not schedule CAB meetings at the same time as the LSB. Some people wished to attend both, Chandra told her, so the two should not be in conflict. Lemlem said okay and asked when the LSB meets--a question that elicited a few laughs since the manager receives all notices of meetings.

"Looking at the budget," said Listener Rep Tracy Rosenberg. "Have we touched our reserve to pay for the deficit the station is running?" Lemlem's answer was "Not yet."

Tracy also asked about the station's personnel policies. She reminded Lemlem that the LSB had, in October 2008, passed a resolution requiring that the information be made available to the board. The manager replied that she would need to consult the corporate counsel to discuss what role the board played in personnel matters and in changing such documents.

"You're not answering the question!" Tracy said in a loud clear voice that needed no microphone. "I asked to see the documents, not change the documents."

Listener Rep Joe Wanzala asked Lemlem about the abrupt three-month suspension of "Women's Magazine," which had been replaced by "Letters from Washington." Lemlem responded that it would return at the end of Obama's first 100 days. She made no reference to the insult to the unpaid staff of "Women's Magazine" and the program's listeners. Nor did she mention the firestorm of critical letters and phone calls from listeners in support of Women's Magazine. Her decision to preempt KPFA's only women's program had been made in a totally opaque manner, without consulting the Program Council or, possibly, anybody else.

When Anthony Fest, a KPFA newscaster and staff rep, asked Lemlem why the Program Council was no longer meeting, her reply was surprisingly revealing. "Well," she said, "the Program Council was spending time discussing whether or not it had decision-making power and of course it doesn't--that's management's job--so we stopped it." In May 2004 the LSB had passed a resolution reaffirming the Program Council's decision making powers so that abrupt, secretive programming decisions like this wouldn't take place, but management has in effect disbanded the Program Council.

Anthony also brought up management's de-recognition of the UnPaid Staff Organization (UPSO), and got the usual excuse--that UPSO was "disorganized." The 1999 lockout had inspired the unpaid volunteers into wrestling themselves into a fairly successful organization until polarizing efforts actively worked against it. It was in August 2007 that Lemlem issued a memo withdrawing recognition. The LSB at that time passed a resolution calling on management to recognize UPSO, but the resolution was ignored. The Pacifica National Board also passed such a resolution, also ignored.

In addition to Anthony Fest, several other board members also asked Lemlem about UPSO and the Program Council, but did not get satisfactory replies. Finally, Henry Norr, a listener rep and former SF Chronicle science columnist, spoke. "Your non-responsiveness to this board--" Henry began, and frankly told the manager she was showing disrespect to the board by not attending these LSB meetings, and by not giving straightforward answers to questions asked. He summed up what had been said by other board members, and added another example--the ongoing difficulty of getting announcements for demonstration and community events aired on KPFA--despite a board resolution to simplify that process. "Nothing has changed," Henry said, and laid the mike back on the table.

The audience--about a dozen listeners and staff--burst out with spontaneous applause. Before Lemlem could respond, Warren Mar, the CL'er who was chairing the meeting, cut in and barked out angrily, "That was a personal attack!" then added, "That was a speech, not a question!"

A moment later Vice Chairman Mar was engaged in a yelling match with members of the audience. Then he called a ten minute break.

The session with the General Manager resumed after the break. Listener Rep Sureya Sayadi took up the mike and rebuked Vice Chairman Mar: "Lemlem has a right to speak for herself," Sureya told the chair. "You don't need to protect her. You minimize her when you try to speak for her. You minimize her when you try to protect her."

Lemlem Rijio was appointed General Manager of KPFA last October--less than a month after a "Statement of No Confidence" in her management style was signed by 74 members of the KPFA staff. Before that Lemlem had been the interim GM for two and a half years, since April 2006.

UPDATE August 2010

The "Concerned Listeners" have appropriated the name "Save KPFA" -- a name belonging to the group of activists who fought for listener democracy during most of the 1990's. Their name "Save KPFA" is legendary, inappropriate for the "Concerned Listeners", a group whose purpose is diametrically opposite.

Save KPFA--hijacking a legendary name


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